My inbox is constantly filled with offers to teach me how to write and make easy money as a copywriter. I always have to smile at these emails because after many years in marketing, I usually know what “tricks” are being played on me. The only way to learn to write is to write – a lot. But if you are a writer in business, degrees and courses can be very important to your career. What are writers anyway but “lifelong learners,” whether they are mastering forensics to write a murder mystery or autism for a magazine article?
Should You Get an Advanced Degree?
An advanced degree in computer science, marketing, or any other subject is a major time commitment, especially if you are writing fiction in your spare time like Kafka. But the rewards can be great. Not only will it give you more confidence when you write at work, but many companies, especially large ones, will raise your salary level when you graduate and even pay your tuition. The right degree can help you earn the respect of the people you are working with, keep you ahead of your competition, and make you less likely to be laid off. It can also ease a move to an agency as a contractor or into freelancing if you want to have more free time.
When I started out as a technical writer, I knew that I had to understand something about how computers worked internally because of the highly technical nature of the software I wrote about. I decided to enroll in a degree program at a local university where I could work at my own pace and where I hoped the pressure would be minimal.
After almost going out of my mind with “transition courses” designed to teach four years of college math in two semesters, I discovered (among other things) that novels are closer to reality than higher mathematics, and after two hellish transition semesters, the courses became considerably easier. I also knew for certain that I was a writer and not a programmer, but the knowledge I gained was invaluable in winning respect in a world of engineers who thought in totally different ways than I did.
Using a Degree Effectively in Power Games
Even before I graduated, I learned to yield my new power. I did really understand a lot more about what I was writing about, and I began to delicately drop remarks about “buffers” and “cache” and say things like “I wrote C code in school” when an uppity engineer was giving me a hard time. The only danger was coming on too strong, since most of the programmers I was working with did not have computer science degrees but were unemployed PhDs in physics or math. Once I realized this, we got along fine since we could honestly respect one another.
When I moved into copywriting, I took every company-paid short course I could in writing newsletters, direct mail, and web pages. Not only did I find the techniques taught in these courses interesting, but they also bolstered my ability to participate in the power games going on in marketing, which is always hungry for hot new techniques. In addition, many companies give in-house classes on a wide variety of subjects, from corporate culture to how to use various marketing tools, which are extremely useful. Professional societies also offer continuing education courses, often online, that you can probably convince your manager to pay for.
A Word of Warning If a Company Won’t Pay
If you are part of a company that does not fund degree work and classes and provide all kinds of other educational opportunities, you should think seriously about looking for another job – and quickly. Either the company is hopelessly clueless and will quickly fall behind its competition, or, more likely, is in financial trouble, and you don’t want to be around for the bankruptcy.